Microsoft sues TomTom over Linux kernel

This week, Microsoft issued a copyright infringement suit in US district court and with the US International Trade Commission against Dutch PND maker TomTom, claiming the company has violated eight of Microsoft's patents.

From Microsoft's filing with the USITC, the company says, "The portable navigation computing devices in question run a version of the Linux operating system, which is a general purpose operating system capable of supporting a wide variety of software applications. For example, the Linux operating system on the portable navigation computing devices executes a navigation application that uses the GPS data provided by the GPS receiver to generate driving directions. The Linux operating system used in the personal navigation computing device and/or the software applications supported by the operating system also provide the devices with additional functionality such as file system support for long and short file names, memory management for flash memory commonly used on such devices, and a platform for integrating and controlling various electronic components used with the portable navigation computing devices, such as other components in a vehicle."

The three Microsoft patents the company cites in this passage are the following:
#5,579,517 and #5,758,352 -- "Common Name Space for Long and Short Filenames"
#6,256,642 -- "Method and System for File System Management Using a Flash-Erasable, Programmable, Read-only Memory"

The other five patents in the federal case are more general in nature, involving the fundamental technology of portable navigation devices. This is reportedly the third time Microsoft has sued TomTom over intellectual property rights, but many are wondering what a suit against a Linux implementer means in the company's overall stance on open source.

Andrew Updegrove of tech law firmGesmer Updegrove says this case is, "No sea change. At most, [it's] a minor course correction" which reflects several things. First, Horacio Gutierrez was promoted to the top licensing spot only a week ago and this is an assertion of his position there. The move will strengthen the credibility of the licensing team who are going to be looking for licensing fees from smaller companies making mobile devices and netbooks in the coming months. Microsoft has reportedly established over 500 patent licensing deals since 2004.

Updegrove says it also reflects "the ongoing internal divisions within Microsoft between the proprietary old guard and the more enlightened new guys (including Ozzie) that either 'get' open source software, or at least understand that Microsoft's customers do.  With layoffs, a bad quarter, and the specter of further losses to Linux-based netbooks and mobile devices clouding the view ahead, perhaps it was politically expedient to throw the old guard a bone."

"What I don't see, really, is any likelihood that a major shift has occurred, and that this is the beginning of the long-feared Microsoft vs. Linux Armageddon." Updegrove said,  "Simply put, it just doesn't make sense."

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